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Office 365 Groups vs Distribution Lists — What’s the Difference? Office 365 (now known only as Microsoft 365) is a suite of productive tools that has played a vital role in revolutionizing the definition of success for many organizations to date.

As per 2022 data, Microsoft Office 365 controls almost half of the office productivity market. 

With exciting free subscriptions and robust paid plans, Office 365 has a variety of features to offer your business. Well, Office 365 Groups and Distribution Lists are two of the many such feature rich aspects.

When it comes to a group of people within an organization, Distribution Lists and Office 365 Groups both appear to be virtually the same, thus leaving business owners wondering which one is the better choice. Though the main objective of these two is to facilitate communication between employees, they come with distinctive differences that affect their effectiveness.

The Office 365 Groups give your team a great collaborative working experience, while distribution lists can help solve your bulk emailing issues.

In this blog post, we’ve compared both Office 365 Groups and Distribution Lists — covering their notable aspects and the key differences between them. The comparison(s) help you choose the best option for your business based on your specific needs.

Shall we start with Office 365 Groups vs Distribution Lists — What’s the Difference?

Office 365 Groups

First of all, the Office 365 Groups is a cross application service that focuses on collaboration between the users, within the organization as well as outside your company. A group is started and managed by any user.


In turn, it enables you to easily collaborate with your team members or edit documents (as per the pre defined policies of your project). These groups are created using other Office 365 tools such as Planner, Outlook on the web, SharePoint, Outlook Mobile, etc. To fulfill the contemporary work demands, these groups work as dynamic self service tools that are completely secure.


Features Of Office 365 Groups

  • Anyone can join public groups without requiring permission.
  • Group creation can be controlled.
  • Easy document sharing outside the organization by using the Guest Access feature.
  • Deleted groups can be restored, and reappear in the navigation panel.
  • Easy organization with labelling.

Types of Office 365 Groups

  • Distribution Groups — Used for group emails (for communication and collaboration).


  • Dynamic Distribution Groups — Helps in sending bulk emails within the MS Exchange Organization.


  • Security Groups — Grants permission for access to Office 365 tools like SharePoint.


  • Email Enabled Security Group — Used for granting permission for accessibility of Office 365
    resources when more than 1 person is trying to access the same inbox.


  • Microsoft 365 Group — Assists in granting permissions, shared inboxes, and collaboration.


  • Dynamic Group — Enables dynamic management of the memberships via membership queries.


  • SharePoint Group — Helps in the management of access to the sites.

Pros Of Office 365 Groups

Easy Setup And Lable Management

Besides, Office 365 interface replicates the user interface of Microsoft Exchange Administration. The groups are easy to set up, and do not require any prior knowledge or a need to learn about any new software. It has the intuitive layout of Microsoft Office and thus works as a convenient self service option for creation and collaboration.

Additionally, based on the categorized email labels, you easily create a retention policy to help you manage the content (deletion, keeping, archiving, etc.)


Collaboration For Efficient Teamwork

Certainly, Office 365 Groups simplify coordination among the team members for a well connected workflow where each team member has access to the information. It improves collaboration through the following functions:

  • OneNote Notebook
  • Emails
  • Teams
  • Planner 
  • Files
  • SharePoint

Therefore, Office 365 Groups act as a shared workspace and enhance your organization’s team efforts. You are able to join meetings, start conversations, take down notes, and share documents with the members of the organization irrespective of their accessibility to On-Prem Customer Engagement.


Improved Policies To Control Group Creation

Chiefly, Office 365 empowers each user to create as many as 250 groups. A large number of unnecessary groups can also end up adding a complexity factor to the workflow. To limit such group creations, the stringent Office 365 policies provide you with the capacity to control the creation of any new groups. This ability to limit group creations applies to Yammer, Planner, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, and Outlook.


Cons Of Office 365 Groups

Group Permissions Question Data Safety

Since all the tenant users get access to the Office 365 groups, it is worth noting that they rightfully alter a Group Site Collection or edit/update a document. This entitles them to special features such as audit logs. This way most of the controls are left at the disposal of the end users, and this puts data security at risk.


Compatibility Issues

Consequently, Office 365 Groups are not visible to Outlook 2013 and hence are compatible only with Office 2016. Also, the integration of Office 365 is possible only with Outlook 2016.


Up next with Office 365 Groups vs Distribution Lists — What’s the Difference? is to introduce Distribution Lists.

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Distribution Lists

Distribution Lists, also referred to as Distribution Groups, are used primarily for sending email notifications to more than one contact. 


As noted, it is mainly useful when you have to send emails to a group of people or a team, without needing to individually add addresses. Unlike Office 365 Groups, in Distribution Lists, a person from outside the organization  joins only after getting accessibility permission from the admin.


Features of Distribution Lists

  • Allows you to add, list, or delete members from a distribution list.
  • Helps you to send emails to multiple people at once.
  • Enables simpler report distribution.
  • The group name is expanded into members.
  • You create dedicated email addresses.

Types Of Distribution Lists

  • Static — It is used to send emails to a static list of contact addresses. You manually add contacts or distribution lists without any restrictions.


  • Dynamic — It belongs to the mail enabled Active Directory group, focused on expediting the bulk email exchange within Microsoft Exchange Organization.

Pros Of Distribution Lists

Easy Bulk Email Sending

Equally, you send bulk emails to a large group of contacts in your list simultaneously, without having to manually add ‘cc’ or ‘bcc’ every time as in traditional email methods. Therefore, it acts as an easy solution to manage communication with multiple team members at the same time. The received emails are replicated and sent to the inboxes of multiple contacts, enabling the reception of the same email at the same time by all the team members.


Simple Data Deletion And Management

You can delete a certain distribution list using the creation tools itself. These can also be deleted in PowerShell. The empty distribution lists are found and deleted using specific commands. Additionally, you also keep track of emails conveniently.

Targeted Emails With Lists

Messages can be targeted to a specific group of contacts with segmentation features. Distribution lists are inexpensive, and created and managed without any hassles. Target-specific emails help in product promotions, building brand awareness, building relationships with present or past clients, etc.


Cons Of Distribution Lists

Lack Of Response Visibility

When a team member replies to a certain email sent to a distribution list, the other recipients cannot get acknowledged about the same. This affects efficient communication or discussion between the employees. Also, there are no transparent records of email conversations.

Limited Control

Evidently, distribution lists only allow limited or no control over replies or required actions. A member cannot assign requests to an individual team member. You cannot add internal notes or private notes to any support requests.


Office 365 Groups Vs Distribution Lists – A Quick Comparison


Office 365 Groups

They allow you to collaborate with your preferred contact(s) outside as well as within the organization. It uses apps like SharePoint, Planner, etc. for such purposes. As a result, It enhances the collaborative workflow with team collaboration.

Distribution Lists

They are used to send emails to a group of recipients without needing to add individual email addresses every single time you send an email. 



Office 365 Groups

With its collaboration feature, Office 365 Groups allow you to share a collection of resources with your team. It uses apps such as Shared Calendar, Outlook Inbox, or a document library for document or file sharing purposes. Also, it offers shared inboxes and calendars.


Distribution Lists

Distribution Lists do not allow shareability since there is no visibility of individual responses to the received emails within the teams. It only allows bulk email sending but no direct transparent responses. It does not offer any shared inboxes, and the emails are only sent to the members.

License Requirements

Office 365 Groups

It offers a free Azure AD subscription in addition to its paid plans. Mostly its free subscription offers most of the Office 365 features. But if you have an Azure AD Premium subscription, users join a group irrespective of possessing an AAD P1 license or not.


Distribution Lists

The Distribution Lists appear as objects of Exchange Online and together appear as groups in Azure AD. The memberships of the mail enabled objects are supported by the Distribution Lists, yet, these remain invisible in the AD report. It can be availed in the free subscription as well as in other AAD subscriptions.


Group Restoration

Office 365 Groups

A deleted Microsoft 365 Group can be restored if you are the administrator (global or group). The deleted groups are retrieved within 30 days after deletion. You can find a deleted group by clicking on ‘Groups’, followed by ‘Deleted Groups’.


Distribution Lists

There is no possible way to retrieve a deleted group in the Distribution Lists. The only way is to create a new DG (Distribution Group) with all the email addresses again.


Office 365 Groups

Both administrators, as well as end users, manually create an Office 365 Group. These also be created automatically by using tools such as Yammer, Planner, SharePoint, etc. These groups can be created in the Office 365 Admin Center, Exchange Admin Center, or PowerShell.


Distribution Lists

End users create Distribution Lists in Outlook by selecting the ‘People’ tab in the Address Book settings. The new contacts are added to a list as and when required. The created Distribution Lists are located in the ‘Contacts’ folder in Microsoft Outlook.



Office 365 Groups

Office 365 Groups are managed using PowerShell cmdlets (a lightweight command used in PowerShell). These commands are useful in:

  • Getting a Unified Group.
  • Removing or editing an existing group.
  • Enlisting the Office 365 Groups in order, etc.

Distribution Lists

To create, edit or remove a Distribution List, you can use Exchange Online PowerShell or Exchange Admin Center. The process takes approximately 2-5 minutes to complete.


Thank you for reading Office 365 Groups vs Distribution Lists — What’s the Difference? We shall conclude this blog article. 

Office 365 Groups vs Distribution Lists – What's the Difference? (Conclusion)

The extent of team collaboration directly impacts business productivity and growth rate.

Hence, Office 365 Groups is a powerful suite of collaboration tools — such as SharePoint, Planner, etc. — which shapes the organization workflow.

Distribution Lists is a robust group/bulk emailing facility. But its limitations — like lack of shareability, absence of transparent email response(s), and facility to restore deleted lists — put it exponentially behind Office 365 Groups, when compared.

With Office 365 Group, you stay informed about emails and discussions that affect your interests in multiple groups and send emails using several groups’ aliases. With Distribution Lists, you can’t do either.

Ultimately, the decision of picking Office 365 Groups or Distribution Lists comes down to how an administrator wants to manage the accounts and contacts.

But we recommend that you choose Office 365 Groups as your go to option because it is a more ROI oriented choice and can accomplish everything that Distribution Lists can and more (as it is a subset of Office 365 Groups), which isn’t true vice versa.


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Anmol Nigam

Anmol Nigam

I write bespoke content for SaaS entrepreneurs and brands to help them scale organically.

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